CDC extends federal evictions moratorium

Eviction moratorium extended through July.

NEWTON COUNTY, Mo. – The Centers for Disease Control extends the federal evictions moratorium through the end of July.

The eviction moratorium was first started in September 2020 and was set to end on June 30th.

By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

But, in some circuit courts, evictions have continued.

In the 40th circuit court, which serves Newton and McDonald County, Associate Judge Christine Rhoades explains the number of people taking advantage of the moratorium is lower than some may expect.

“From what I see in my courtroom, the people taking advantage of that CDC moratorium has not been… those have not been in high numbers,” says Judge Rhoades.

It’s unclear why more tenants who may be struggling to pay their rent because of the pandemic aren’t taking advantage of the moratorium. A part of it may be because of confusion — with some possibly not knowing they needed to take action to prevent an eviction.

“Our court, like a lot of courts, entered an administrative order requiring landlords before they get an actual order to go put somebody physically out of their house, they have to swear that they have not been given an affidavit that the renter swears that they are affected by COVID. That their income and ability to pay rent has been impacted by COVID,” explains Judge Rhoades. “There are some requirements for that affidavit. But, before getting a writ of execution, the landlord has to sign an affidavit that they have not received that affidavit from the renter. If they have received that affidavit, they can’t have the sheriff go out and evict those tenants. If they didn’t get that affidavit, regardless of the CDC’s moratorium, landlords have been free to continue with their evictions.”

She also explains that even if a tenant has signed an affidavit, swearing to an impact by COVID, a judgment can still be signed against them. All the moratorium actually does is keep them from being physically removed from the property.

“There are landlords out there that, as soon as that moratorium expires, they have the right to come to court and get a writ of execution and send the sheriff out to serve it. And some landlords are just waiting on that,” explains Judge Rhoades. “They have a judgment. And in a lot of cases, they have a judgment that not only gives them the right to put the tenant out of the place but also (for) money. So they could be garnishing wages for that back rent all this time. There’s no moratorium on collecting back rent.”

According to court records provided by Circuit Clerk Patty Krueger, the court saw zero Rent and Possession cases in September and October 2020. Since May 1st, 2021, the court has seen 13 cases. Judge Rhoades explains there hasn’t been an appreciable increase in cases — but there hasn’t been a decline either.

“It looks like in the year prior to September, we had, I want to say, 87 cases. In the past 12 months, we had 113,” says Judge Rhoades.

On Thursday, Judge Rhoades saw five rent and possession cases. One of them involved Sunnyvale Investment Properties out of Joplin.

“They didn’t show up so we got full possession of the property,” says Swaden Smith, partner/owner with Sunnyvale Investment Properties.

Smith explains that they’ve tried to work with tenants in all of their more than 300 properties if they’ve been impacted by the pandemic. She also says that only between 10 and 20 of her tenants have not been able to pay any rent during the pandemic.

“We’ve been really lenient as long as they make an effort and as long as they try. It’s hard times and we know everybody’s struggling right now. I mean, that’s their home. We don’t want them to lose it,” says Smith. “But, if they just take advantage of it and they’re destroying the property, then it’s time for them to go.”

Smith explains the hardest part for them has been trying to work with tenants who fall under the moratorium — but haven’t taken care of the property they live in. That’s the main reason why she says she ready for the moratorium to end.

“We have these nice properties that are getting ruined by people that just don’t care and aren’t making an effort. They’re staying there. They’re allowed to stay there. And we get nothing out of it but a loss in the end,” says Smith.

As mentioned before, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent at the end of March. Something that could lead to what’s being called an eviction crisis — where millions of Americans lose their homes as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

“Some lawyers prefer not to even go to court until they can actually go all the way through with the evictions. So I think there are some people out there with cases they could file but they want to wait and do it all at one time,” explains Judge Rhoades. “We may have a line out the door of landlords ready to evict folks. I don’t have a good idea of how many that will be. The hope is some of the tenants have been able to get back to work and pay up their rent and they’re able to stay. That would be my hope. I’m fairly certain that’s not the case though in the vast majority. But we’ll have to wait and see for that.”

There are millions in federal funding currently available in Missouri for renters facing eviction or thousands in back rent due to the pandemic. The Missouri SAFHR program is administered by the Missouri Housing Development Commission and funded by federal COVID stimulus packages. For those who qualify, it can cover up to a total of 12 months of rent and utility bills, back to April 2020, and for up to 3 months in the future.

To learn more about the SAFHR program in Missouri, go here: https://www.mohousingresources.com/